Disasters and collective trauma

When a sudden violent incident or a natural disaster happens it’s hard for people and communities to understand or comprehend the situation.

We cannot protect children from feelings of fear, anxiety or pain but we can help them to process what has happened and help them to move forward.

Major incidents or events, whether through direct exposure or by seeing and hearing about them in the media or from families, can affect children at any age, and because children’s brains are still developing they can be more vulnerable to trauma than adults.

The belief that children are not affected by trauma can lead to their experiences being ignored or their behaviour interpreted incorrectly.

Spotting the signs

See the information in the Spotting the signs section on our trauma page.

Top Tips

Recognise how you feel.

If you have also been involved in a traumatic event, you may not be as emotionally available as usual. It’s important for children to know that you have been affected too. Explaining and naming your emotions may help them to understand their own feelings.

Children often worry about the adults closest to them.

Tell them it is not their responsibility to look after you. If you can’t support the children in your care, make sure that other adults can do this.

Children need routine, attention and reassurance to help them feel safe again.

Sometimes children (and adults) may need professional counselling support after a traumatic experience so that they can get back to normal quickly and prevent or reduce the harmful effects of prolonged stress.

What schools can do

After a traumatic event, school staff should:

  • Be calm.
  • Help children feel safe.
  • Keep routines and habits the same.
  • If appropriate ask children what they know and tell them what happened without overwhelming them, and let them ask questions.
  • Help children enjoy themselves and get distracted.
  • Make sure that colleagues are coping and seeking help for themselves where necessary.

There’s further information in the ‘what schools can do’ section on our trauma page.

Related resources

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The impact of trauma on staff

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